My Friday Post: The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

Greatcoat

The library van visit was on Tuesday this week and The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore caught my eye because ever since I read her last book, Birdcage Walk I have been wanting to read more of her books. 

The description on the back cover:

It is the winter of 1952, and Isabel Carey  is struggling to adjust to the realities of married life in Yorkshire.

Isolated and lonely, she is also intensely cold. And her husband – a doctor – is rarely at home. And then one night, she discovers an old RAF greatcoat in the back of a cupboard. She puts it on for warmth – and is startled by a knock at her window.

Outside is a young man. A pilot. And he wants to come in …

Chapter One

1952

Isabel sat back on her heels and watched flames spring up in the grate. They were pale and there was no heat in them. She was cold, she was tired, her back ached and her eyes stung – from the smoke of course. But at least the fire was lit.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

 

Pages 55-56:

There was a man outside the window. She saw the pallor of his face first, as it seemed to bob against the glass, too high up to belong to a man who had his feet on the ground.

I want to know more – do you too?

My Friday Post: The House on Cold Hill by Peter James

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week I’m featuring one of my current library loans, The House on Cold Hill by Peter James. I borrowed this book because I like Peter James’s books. This is a standalone novel, not one of his Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series.

The House on Cold Hill

‘Are we nearly there yet?’

Johnny, a smouldering cigar in his mouth, looked in the rear-view mirror. He loved his kids, but Felix, who had just turned eight, could be an irritating little sod sometimes. ‘That’s the third time you’ve asked in ten minutes,’ he said, loudly, above the sound of the Kinks’ ‘Sunny Afternoon’ blaring from the radio.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

‘It’s your birthday soon,’ Caro said, during a commerical break in the TV programme. ‘You’re going to be an old man!’

‘Yep, tell me about it,’ Ollie replied.

‘Forty! Still you’re wearing pretty well.’

~~~

Blurb:

Moving from the heart of the city of Brighton and Hove to the Sussex countryside is a big undertaking for born townies, Ollie Harcourt, his wife, Caro, and their twelve-year-old daughter, Jade. But when they view Cold Hill House – a huge, dilapidated, Georgian mansion – they are filled with excitement. Despite the financial strain of the move, Ollie has dreamed of living in the country since he was a child, and with its acres of land, he sees Cold Hill House as a paradise for his animal-loving daughter, a base for his web-design business and a terrific long-term investment. Caro is less certain, and Jade is grumpy about being removed from all her friends.

But within days of moving in, it soon becomes apparent that the Harcourt family aren’t the only residents in the house. At first it is only a friend of Jade, talking to her on Facetime, who sees a spectral woman standing behind her. Then there are more sightings of her, as well as increasingly disturbing occurrences in the house. Two weeks after moving in, Caro, out in the garden, is startled to see faces staring out of an upstairs window of the house.

The window of a room which holds the secret to the house’s dark history . . . a room which does not appear to exist . . .

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

My Friday Post: Printer’s Devil Court by Susan Hill

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week I’m featuring Printer’s Devil Court: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill, one of the books I’ve borrowed from my local library. This is a novella of just 106 pages.

Printer's Devil Court

In my first year as a junior doctor I moved into lodgings in a small court close by Fleet Street, an area which could not at the time have changed greatly since the days of Dickens.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

‘Do you not believe the evidence of your own eyes? How can what you witnessed tonight be some kind of trick or charade?

Blurb (Amazon)

A chilling ghost story by the author of The Woman in Black.

One murky November evening after a satisfying meal in their Fleet Street lodgings, a conversation between four medical students takes a curious turn and Hugh is initiated into a dark secret. In the cellar of their narrow lodgings in Printer’s Devil Court and a little used mortuary in a subterranean annex of the hospital, they have begun to interfere with death itself, in shadowy experiments beyond the realms of medical ethics. They call on Hugh to witness an event both extraordinary and terrifying.

Years later, Hugh has occasion to return to his student digs and the familiar surroundings resurrect peculiar and unpleasant memories of these unnatural events, the true horror of which only slowly becomes apparent.

~~~

I’ve loved some of Susan Hill’s books, but have found her novellas leave me feeling I want more – I hope this one lives up to the promise of its blurb.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Six Degrees of Separation from Atonement to Out of Bounds

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

Atonement

This month the chain begins with Atonement by Ian McEwan, a book I’ve read and loved! This is a love story and also a mystery. It revolves around the lives of  two sisters, Briony and her older sister, Cecelia. It has vividly-drawn characters and harrowing descriptions of war with reflections on the process of writing and the interpretation of novels.

Kew GardensThe Gardens of the DeadThe Black Friar (Damian Seeker, #2)He Who Whispers (Dr. Gideon Fell, #16)CauldstaneOut of Bounds (Inspector Karen Pirie, #4)

Briony is an admirer of Virginia Woolf and stream-of-consciousness writing and that brings me to the first link in the chain – Virginia Woolf’s short story Kew Gardens with its descriptions of people in the Gardens on a sunny day as they pass by a flowerbed.

My second link is to a book also with the word ‘gardens‘ in the title –  The Gardens of the Dead by William Brodrick, featuring Father Anselm, a barrister turned monk. Another book, also crime fiction, that features a monk is –

The Black Friar by S G MacLean, set in the 17th century, in which the body of a man dressed as a Dominican friar, is found bricked up in a wall in Blackfriars, once a monastery. He was actually an undercover agent going under the name of ‘Gideon Fell’.

In He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr, one of his series of locked room mysteries/impossible crimes, Dr Gideon Fell is an amateur sleuth.  A body is found lying on the parapet of a tower, once part of a chateau since burnt down.

My next link takes me to another book featuring a tower – Cauldstane by Linda Gillard, a ghost story, set in a Scottish tower house in the Highlands owned by Sholto MacNab, a retired adventurer. It’s also a story of loss and revenge, of good versus evil and the power of love. Meredith, Sholto’s second wife, was killed in a car crash.

There is also a car crash in my final link, another crime fiction novel, Out of Bounds by Val McDermid, the 4th Inspector Karen Pirie novel, in which a teenage joyrider crashes a stolen car and ends up in a coma. A routine DNA test reveals a connection to an unsolved murder from twenty-two years before.

 ~~~

My chain is made up of a mixture of books that I’ve read or are on my TBR shelves and a mix of short stories, historical fiction and mostly crime fiction. Beginning with a book set in the 1930s and 40s the chain moves through the centuries from the 17th century to the present day linked by the titles, monks, names of the characters, towers and car crashes.

Next month (1 September, 2018), we’ll begin with Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson.

Six Degrees of Separation from Tales of the City to Fear in the Sunlight

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

Tales of the City (Tales of the City, #1)

Completely Unexpected TalesDon't Look Now and Other StoriesThe Man in the PictureThe Picture of Dorian GrayOscar Wilde and the Candlelight MurdersFear in the Sunlight (Josephine Tey, #4)

This month the chain begins with Tales of the City, the first in a series by Armistead Maupin – yet another book I haven’t read or even heard of before! But it brought to my mind another book of tales –

Completely Unexpected Tales by Roald Dahl, described on the back cover as a collection of macabre tales of vengeance, surprise and dark delights. I used to enjoy these tales in the TV series, Tales of the Unexpected, years ago.

That takes me to the second link in the chain which is another collection of short stories, Don’t Look Now and Other Stories  by Daphne Du Maurier. The title story is a supernatural tale involving a British couple on holiday in Venice to escape the pain of their young daughter’s recent death.

Another book set in partly in Venice is The Man in the Picture: a Ghost Story by Susan Hill . The narrator is having a meal with his old college professor one bitterly cold January evening in  Cambridge, listening to a strange tale of a Venetian painting, of death and damnation.

And so to the fourth link both by its title and its subject – a story of the supernatural, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, a Gothic horror story in which Dorian Gray exchanges his soul for eternal youth and beauty.

Oscar Wilde is the main character in Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders by Gyles Brandreth, a detective story of corruption and intrigue in which Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle investigate a murder. This is a book that mixes fact and fiction by using real people as characters. As does my last book –

Fear in the Sunlight by Nicola Upson, set in the 1930s, in which writer Josephine Tey joins her friends in the holiday village of Portmeirion to celebrate her fortieth birthday. Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville, are there to sign a deal to film Josephine’s novel, A Shilling for Candles.

 ~~~

My chain is made up of a mixture of books that I’ve read or are on my TBR shelves and a mix of short stories, ghost and horror stories and crime fiction. Books about the supernatural, books set in Venice and books  that mix fact and fiction.

Next month (August 4, 2018), we’ll begin with Atonement by Ian McEwan. Hurrah – a book I’ve read and loved!

Six Degrees from Lincoln in the Bardo to Iris

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month the chain begins with Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, a book I haven’t read.

Lincoln in the Bardo

It’s about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War. Willie finds himself trapped in a transitional realm – called, in Tibetan tradition, the bardo – and as ghosts mingle, squabble, gripe and commiserate, and stony tendrils creep towards the boy, a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

Moving from a fictional and highly original book by the looks of it my chain goes next to a biographical account of Lincoln:

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

Team of Rivals: the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, a biography of Abraham Lincoln and others, by  Doris Kearns Goodwin, a book I bought after watching the film, Lincoln, which is loosely based on this book covering the final four months of Lincoln’s life. Goodwin examines his relationships with three men he selected for his cabinet, all of whom were opponents for the Republican nomination in 1860: William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates.

Body Parts: Essays on Life-Writing

Writing biography is the subject of Body Parts: Essays on Life Writing by Hermione Lee, a collection of essays on Shelley,  T S Eliot, J M Coetzee, Jane Austen, Eudora Welty  and Virginia Woolf, to name but a few. Lee explores the relation of biography to fiction and history and of the connection of writers’ lives to their works.

So my next link is a collection of essays by Virginia Woolf –

The Death of the Moth and Other Essays

The Death of the Moth and Other Essays, originally published in 1942 by Leonard Woolf. Virginia had been getting together essays, which she proposed to publish in the autumn of 1941, or the spring of 1942. She had left behind her many essays, sketches and short stories, some of which had been previously published in newspapers, which he decided were worth republishing and in this book he also included some of those previously unpublished.

The title essay is a meditation on the nature of life and death seen through the perspective of a moth. It flies by day, fluttering from side to side of a window pane. As the day progresses the moth tires and falls on his back. He struggles vainly to raise himself. Woolf watches, realising that it is useless to try to do anything to help and ponders the power of death over life.

Moths provide the next link  – to a novel, The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams.

Behavior Of Moths

This is the story of two sisters, Ginny and Vivi. Vivi, the younger sister left the family mansion 47 years earlier and returns unexpectedly one weekend. Ginny, a reclusive moth expert has rarely left the house in all that time.  What happens when they meet again is shocking to both of them. It’s a story full of mystery and suspense as it is revealed that the two have very different memories of their childhood and the events of the past. Two events in particular affected their lives. One was when Vivi, aged 8, fell from the bell tower and nearly died. The story alternates between the past and the present as Ginny recalls their lives.

Bell‘ is the next link in my chain – to Iris Murdoch’s novel The Bell, a book with an impending sense of evil and menace. It looks at the angst and self-denial of the relationship between religion and sex.

The Bell

A lay community lives next to an enclosed order of nuns, a new bell is being installed and then the old bell, a legendary symbol of religion and magic  is retrieved from the bottom of the lake. The legend of the bell is that it fell into the lake after a 14th century Bishop had cursed the Abbey when a nun was discovered to have a lover and had drowned herself.

And my final link is to a book about the author of The Bell, Iris Murdoch – Iris: A Memoir by John Bayley.

Iris: A Memoir of Iris Murdoch

I first read this in 2003. It’s a very loving and touching account. Iris died in February 1999 after suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Bayley explained how he had coped emotionally and practically with the illness that beset the woman he loved and cherished.

Writing this post as disrupted my reading because I got Bayley’s book off the shelves and began reading it again. He writes in such a warm and affectionate way that I’ve decided to read it right away.

For once there is no crime fiction in my chain! It contains books pondering the nature of life and death, beginning with a meditation on the death of Willie Lincoln and ending with a memoir of the life of Iris Murdoch.

Next month (March 3, 2018), the chain begins with a controversial book that Kate reports had everyone talking in the nineties – The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. Everyone that is, apart from me – I don’t know anything (yet) about this book.

Six Degrees from No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency to White Nights

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month the chain begins with Alexander McCall Smith’s No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, a book I haven’t read although I have watched the TV version.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency  (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #1)

Precious Ramotswe is a kind, warm-hearted and large African lady. She is also the only female private detective in Botswana. Her agency – the No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency – is the best in the country. With help of her secretary, Mma Makutsi, and her best friend, Mr JLB Matekoni, she solves a number of difficult problems. A missing husband, a missing finger and a missing child – she will solve these mysteries in her own special way.

Although I haven’t read No.1 Ladies Detective Agency I have read a few of Alexander McCall Smith’s books including The Careful Use of Compliments, an Isabel Dalhousie Novel, one of the Sunday Philosophy Club series, set in Edinburgh.

The Careful Use of Compliments (Isabel Dalhousie, #4)

Isabel has just had a baby, Charlie, and is in a relationship with his father, Jamie (14 years her junior) who is her niece’s, ex-boyfriend. There is a mystery about a painting, whether or not it is a forgery, but for me it’s the philosophical questions that are always uppermost in Isabel’s mind and conversations, her way of ‘interring’ in matters which she considers ‘helping’, and her kindhearted nature that was more interesting.

The next link in my chain is to an another book set in Edinburgh. The Inspector’s Daughter by Alanna Knight, the first in the Rose McQuinn Mystery series, set in Edinburgh in 1895, when the Forth Railway Bridge had just been opened.

The Inspector's Daughter

Rose, recently returned from America’s Wild West, steps into the shoes of her father, DI Faro. She lives in an isolated house at the foot of Arthur’s Seat and is helped by a wild deerhound who appears just when she needs him.

Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano within Holyrood Park, east of Edinburgh Castle is also mentioned in Ian Rankin’s The Falls, the 12th Inspector Rebus book.

The Falls (Inspector Rebus, #12)

Rebus investigates the disappearance of ‘Flip’ a university student. One lead is a carved wooden doll found in a tiny coffin. Rebus concentrates on the tiny coffin and finds a whole series of them had turned up over the years dating back to 1836 when 17 were found on Arthur’s Seat.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Tales of Terror

In The Falls Rankin also refers to Burke and Hare, the 19th century resurrectionists and this leads me on to the next link in my chain – to The Body Snatcher, which is one of the Tales of Terror by Robert Louis Stevenson, published in the same volume as The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde. This is a traditional Christmas ghost story, beginning with four men gathered in an inn on a dark winter’s night telling tales of grisly deeds as they sit round the fireside. One of the stories is based on the activities of body snatchers, Burke and Hare in Edinburgh in the 1820s.

The next book, also by Robert Louis Stevenson is in contrast to his tale of terror  – it’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, poems I loved as a child.

This is one of my favourite poems – it brings to mind the power  and fury of the wind:

Windy Nights

Whenever the moon and stars are set,
Whenever the wind is high,
All night long in the dark and wet,
A man goes riding by.
Late in the night when the fires are out,
Why does he gallop and gallop about?

Whenever the trees are crying aloud,
And ships are tossed at sea,
By, on the highway, low and loud,
By at the gallop goes he;
By at the gallop he goes, and then
By he comes back at the gallop again.

The last link in my chain is to a book with Nights in its title – White Nights by Ann Cleeves, the second in her Shetland Quartet, featuring DI Jimmy Perez. The ‘white nights’ are the summer nights when the sun never really goes down.

White Nights (Shetland Island, #2)

It’s set mainly in Biddista, a fictional village where artist Bella Sinclair throws an elaborate party to launch an exhibition of her work at The Herring House, a gallery on the beach. The party ends in farce when one the guests, a mysterious Englishman, bursts into tears and claims not to know who he is or where he’s come from. The following day the Englishman is found hanging from a rafter, and Jimmy Perez is convinced that the man has been murdered.

From books about different detective series my chain moved through a tale of terror, then to a children’s book of poetry and back to another murder mystery –  from Botswana to Edinburgh and the Shetland Isles.

Next month (February 3, 2018),  the chain begins with the book that won the Man Booker Prize in 2017 – Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.